The man who thinks for himself learns the authorities for his opinions
only later on, when they serve merely to strengthen both them and
himself; while the book-philosopher starts from the authorities and
other people’s opinions, therefrom constructing a whole for himself; so
that he resembles an automaton, whose composition we do not understand.
The other man, the man who thinks for himself, on the other hand, is
like a living man as made by nature. His mind is impregnated from
without, which then bears and brings forth its child. Truth that has
been merely learned adheres to us like an artificial limb, a false
tooth, a waxen nose, or at best like one made out of another’s flesh;
truth which is acquired by thinking for oneself is like a natural
member: it alone really belongs to us. Here we touch upon the difference
between the thinking man and the mere man of learning. Therefore the
intellectual acquirements of the man who thinks for himself are like a
fine painting that stands out full of life, that has its light and shade
correct, the tone sustained, and perfect harmony of colour. The
intellectual attainments of the merely learned man, on the contrary,
resemble a big palette covered with every colour, at most systematically
arranged, but without harmony, relation, and meaning.
Mere experience can as little as reading take the place of thought. Mere
empiricism bears the same relation to thinking as eating to digestion
and assimilation. When experience boasts that it alone, by its
discoveries, has advanced human knowledge, it is as though the mouth
boasted that it was its work alone to maintain the body.
The works of all really capable minds are distinguished from all other
works by a character of decision and definiteness, and, in consequence,
of lucidity and clearness. This is because minds like these know
definitely and clearly what they wish to express–whether it be in
prose, in verse, or in music. Other minds are wanting in this decision
and clearness, and therefore may be instantly recognised.
The characteristic sign of a mind of the highest standard is the
directness of its judgment. Everything it utters is the result of
thinking for itself; this is shown everywhere in the way it gives
expression to its thoughts. Therefore it is, like a prince, an imperial
director in the realm of intellect. All other minds are mere delegates,
as may be seen by their style, which has no stamp of its own.
Hence every true thinker for himself is so far like a monarch; he is
absolute, and recognises nobody above him. His judgments, like the
decrees of a monarch, spring from his own sovereign power and proceed
directly from himself. He takes as little notice of authority as a
monarch does of a command; nothing is valid unless he has himself
authorised it. On the other hand, those of vulgar minds, who are swayed
by all kinds of current opinions, authorities, and prejudices, are like
the people which in silence obey the law and commands.
In the realm of reality, however fair, happy, and pleasant it may prove
to be, we always move controlled by the law of gravity, which we must be
unceasingly overcoming. While in the realm of thought we are disembodied
spirits, uncontrolled by the law of gravity and free from penury.
This is why there is no happiness on earth like that which at the
propitious moment a fine and fruitful mind finds in itself.
…More to Come in Piece III